Asia is a continent of endless possibilities, especially for those with a deeply rooted western vision. Throughout the sixties and seventies, China’s Martial Art film industry acquired thousands of admirers of their culture in the United States and Europe. Meanwhile, Japan was known for its distinctive filmmakers, like Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu. It started perfecting the fields of animation and illustration, and it continued to grow into the heritage industry we know today. Thus, Asia proved its potential to generate their own cultural and mass consumption products in the age of technology and mass media.
But, what about Korea? For years, the country was overshadowed by Japan and China, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its own stars in contemporary TV and film. Chan-Wook Park, director of the movie Oldboy, is one example. South Korea is not only the ideological opposite of North Korea, but it also has become a musical and media phenomenon that has no need to turn its gaze to the universal capital of showbiz, the United States. All because of its secret weapon: K-pop.
Back in 2012, the song “Gangnam Style” by South Korean singer PSY went viral. The language barrier was no obstacle between the song and the top positions of international music charts. Moreover, countless music videos imitating the dance moves of the song were made. After this event, K-pop —Korean pop— started to gain more and more popularity all over the world.
The story of this genre dates back to the end of the Second World War, when Korea gained its independence from Japan and was divided into two nations in contravention: North Korea and South Korea. As time passed, South Korea created its own mass media initiatives, such as the TV program Music Bank, airing on the channels KBS 2TV and Mnet, which organized events in New York, Paris, England, and Mexico, among others. The music and singers often were part of movies, TV series, animations, video games, stage plays, and commercials. This has built a star system that expands exponentially and is commanded by youngsters with a stylized and childish appearance, wearing pastel colors. They are usually introduced as innocent characters but, at the same time, are sexualized. Usually they are part of a group and pursue solo careers after some years. Their private lives awaken a passion and morbidity that is similar to that prompted by Hollywood celebrities. That’s why this time we present eight of the best K-pop artists that will widen your conception about Korea.
Girl’s Generation or SNSD, as their fans usually call them, was a group formed by nine girls. It split up in 2014 when one member, Jessica, left. They debuted in 2007 with the song “Into The New World,” but SNSD rose to fame with the single “Gee”, which reached the top spot on KBS‘s Music Bank 38 consecutive times. Their videos have millions of views and Billboard has named the group “the top K-pop girl group of Korea.” They’re expected to release new material this year in celebration of the group’s tenth anniversary.
Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé and Lisa are the members of Black Pink, a name that synthesizes the essential concept of the band: cuteness isn’t everything. Black Pink debuted in 2016 with the singles “Boombayah” and “Whistle,” which quickly boosted their popularity and made them reach the highest spots in music charts. Their videos have over 150 million views, and their single “Whistle” is the most listened song of a K-pop girl band on Spotify. Their most recent hit is “Playing With Fire.”
Twice is a nine member group that made their debut in 2015 with the singles “Like Ohh Ahh,” “Cheer Up,” and “TT.” Their video “Like Ohh Ahh” became the most viewed in the history of a rookie K-pop group. Twice is also considered on of the gems of the genre and the record label JYP. Artists like Jared Leto have shared pictures of the band on their social media.
Amongst male groups, we have 9-member group EXO, which made their debut in 2012 and has continued to achieve unparalleled success. EXO stands for “exoplanet” since, according to the band’s members, they come from another planet. Their songs blend elements form rap and pop and have reached almost every corner of the world. Their album, Ex’Act, was a major success, since it sold over 660 thousand copies during its pre-sale.
CL, Park Bom, Dara, and Minzy formed the group 2ne1 until 2016. In Korean, the pronunciation of the band’s name resembles the words “Twenty-One” and carries the concept of a “new evolution in the twenty-first century”. In 2009, when they made their debut, they were the only group to have five songs from the same album reaching the top positions in music charts. They have also reached the ninth place of the American Billboard list. They have toured worldwide and made collaborations with artists like will.i.am, from The Black Eyed Peas. Their last album, Crush (2016), was a best-selling K-pop record. CL and Minzy have continued their careers as solo artists.
Seven-member boy band BTS debuted in 2013 and rapidly escalated to the top of the K-pop scene. Their song “Blood Sweat & Tears” earned them international recognition and countless awards. Their last one being the Top Social Media Artist Award at the Billboard Music Awards. They snatched this prize from huge artists like Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande, Shaw Mendes, and Justin Bieber.
This is one of the few K-pop groups with a different concept, as it is made up of two guys and two girls: J.seph, BM, Somin, and Jiwoo. They just debuted last year with the song “Oh Nana,” which reached iTune’s top 3 in America.
Big Bang are considered to be the very best among K-pop groups, as well as one of the giants of pop genre world-wide according to CNN. Its members are G-Dragon, Seungri, T.O.P., Daesung, and Taeyang, each one with their own personality and style. Their popularity has only risen since their debut in 2006. All their albums have earned top spots on world music charts. Their album Alive (2012) was the first Korean language K-pop album to appear in the Billboard 200 chart. Four years after, their album MADE (2016) it (pun intended) to this chart again.
Translated by Andrea Valle
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